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Thursday 26 August 2010

Collect Transcaucasian Federation Stamps!

I am sure that some collectors avoid the areas I specialise in just because there are so many fakes and forgeries. And I have been Blogging a lot about fakes and forgeries.

If you want to collect something in my area where there are few or no forgeries, try the neglected Transcaucasian Federation pictorial issues of 1923. Just 17 stamps in the Stanley Gibbons listing.

There are no forgeries of the basic stamps or (to my knowledge) of the two overprints, since the overprints are on basic stamps which are at least as scarce without overprints as with.

I haven't yet seen a forged cancellation, presumably because there is no stamp which is really common mint and really scarce used.

However, there are challenges. Not all the stamps are equally common. Some are very scarce mint (for example the 3 kopeck) and some are quite scarce used (for example the 40 000 rouble or the 1 kopeck).

There are imperforates, ungummed, from remainder stocks but these turn up in very unequal quantities - making the three sets is hard!

Finding stamps with Georgian and Azerbaijan postmarks is easy; with Armenian cancellations, it's much harder - here a forger might be tempted. But Georgian cancellations are almost always of TIFLIS/TBILISI in Cyrillic or Georgian script and Azerbaijan cancels are 90% + BAKU. So there is a challenge in finding and identifying other cancellations. There is NO favour cancelled (CTO) material. The Bolsheviks were hostile to the idea at this period, associating it with speculation.

Covers will cost you 100 euro upwards and often look attractive. There are virtually no philatelically-inspired covers.

Sound attractive? Well, I have decided to bring my entire Transcaucasian stock to London STAMPEX where you will find me up in the Gallery area from 15 to 18 September inclusive. Or you can email me:

Thursday 19 August 2010

Podolia Tridents / Podillia Tridents - help please

A dozen years ago, I had far too large a stock of the Tridents of Podilia / Podolia, most of it from remainder lots of the Vyrovyj collection. In addition, I had some Podolian postal history material from the 1915-18 period and the 1921 - 25 period. So while my younger daughter sat and revised for her school examinations, I sat and constructed two large collections: one of Podolia trident sub-types; one of Podolian postmarks 1915 - 25. The latter collection showed cancellations from about 140 offices.

I recently examined the postmark collection in order to establish the date around which Tridents came into use in Podillia. I have no examples of postmarks on Podilian tridents earlier than 7th September 1918 - and that cancellation, from MICHALPOL, is on a favour cancelled block. I then have postally used examples on the 12th (VINNITSA ZABUSHE), 16th (BRASLAV),ZHMERINKA (20th), KRIVOI ROG (26th) and SNITKOV (28th).

Unoverprinted stamps clearly continued in use for a while alongside trident-overprinted stamps. The last example I have is from SHATAVA on 21st September,and t the penultimate use of unoverprinted stamps is at DUNAEVTSI on the 8th. These late uses are of stamps on Money Transfers or fragments of them, so they are not examples of private individuals using up stamps.

So I conclude that in Podolia / Podillia trident-overprinted stamps came into use in September 1918 and by the end of the month had largely replaced non-overprinted stamps.

Am I right? Does any reader of this Blog have a clear cancel on a Podillia / Podolia trident before the beginning of September? You can scan me a copy at Thanks in advance!

POSTSCRIPT 23 AUGUST 2010: In his Ukraine Handbook for Podolia, Dr Ceresa illustrates two Money Transfer Forms sent from LETICHEV POD. on 27.8.18 with mixed frankings of overprinted and unoverprinted stamps. This pushes back the date for introduction of Podilian Tridents into August 1918. That is coherent with the August date given for Trident introduction by Bulat in his catalog for several other districts: Kyiv (page 7), Kharkiv (page 38), Katerynoslav (page 46), Poltava (page 74). He does not give a date for Odesa or Podillia.

Monday 16 August 2010

A Very Big Job for Serious Russian - area Philatelists...

The break up of the Soviet Union transformed the philatelic world. Large quantities of material became available in Western Europe and America, as well as in the former Soviet Union itself, much of it never seen before or never in such quantities. But much of what is now coming out - or being recycled from the USA onto ebay - is newly faked but using as the basis genuine stamps, covers and documents which themselves only became recently available. Alongside this material, old fakes have been given a new lease of life: on his new website [see link at bottom of this Blog] Stefan Berger illustrates the quite extraordinary prices being achieved on ebay for dreadful, amateurish old Armenian fakes. Goodness knows what people will pay for the new and better ones!

It is a big challenge for the collector journals. Unfortunately, not all of them realise how serious is the challenge they face. I have now seen articles in three of the heavyweight "academic" collector journals (all of them North American, as it happens) promoting as "discoveries" doubtful or downright forged material. It is precisely because these enthusiastic articles are profusely illustrated that one can reasonably suspect that something is very wrong.

Everyone likes to make a discovery and everyone can think they have made a discovery when they have simply been duped. We shouldn't be too hard on the collectors. But the Editors of the journals need to be much more alert to the current range of problems. "Discoveries" have to be properly researched, put into context, assessed for probability and plausibility. In some cases, very simple "forensic" tests will demolish a "discovery"; the date is wrong, the cancellation does not stand up to comparison with other known examples, the basic stamp is wrong for that overprint, there is a hinge on the back of this rare stamp on this cover .... Those forensic tests are simply not being conducted and it shows.

We need more dedicated sites like Stefan Berger's, which address just one country and one period. We need one for Zemstvos. We need one for Ukraine. We need many for the old Soviet Union!

Thursday 12 August 2010

ARTAR or Zakiyan? Armenian revenue overprints

I have always believed that when the Paris printers Chassepot prepared the first pictorial stamps of Armenia in 1920, they despatched only the low values in the Eagle design to Yerevan. By the time they got to print the high values in two colours, the Dashnak regime had collapsed. The high value stamps were remaindered from Paris, which is why they are more common in Europe than the low values, many of which had been despatched to Yerevan. (For the later crude Reprints, all values are equally common).

This story would explain why Christopher Zakiyan, in his book Armenia: Postage Stamps, Fiscal Stamps, Postage Cancels (Yerevan 2003, pages 63ff)lists Soviet fiscal overprints on only the 1,5,10 and 15 rouble Chassepot stamps, which are also the only values which appear on the documents he illustrates (There is an unexplained mystery about what happened to the 3 rouble Chassepot stamp).

In the ARTAR catalog, it seems that the same account is going to be accepted from the text on page 126, but then on page 132, we are shown fiscal overprints on all the high value stamps with accompanying high valuations (minimum $450). But if the conventional wisdom is correct, these high value stamps were not available for overprinting because they had not been sent to Yerevan. So any fiscal overprint on these stamps, whether Originals or Reprints, must be a fake. (On page 131, ARTAR also lists the 3 rouble with fiscal overprint and also gives it a $450 valuation).

These overprints on high values were first announced to the philatelic world in an article by Joseph Ross ("Armenian Revenue Stamps and their Uses", The Post-Rider, No 41, 1997, pages 40 - 48). I replied in issue 49 of the same journal (November 2001, page 111). By this time I had seen actual examples of the overprints on the high values, all of which were identical in terms of frame line breaks and so on. From this I concluded that they had been digitally produced on the basis of a scan from just one stamp. Examples I saw included ones on reprints, so necessarily fakes. These stamps had all come from one source in the USA. All were mint, as are all those illustrated by both Joseph Ross and ARTAR.

The conservative and, I believe correct, position is this: there is no good evidence for the existence of fiscal overprints on the Chassepot high values. The best information we have is against the possibility. The stamps listed at page 132 of ARTAR must be fakes. The listing given by Zakiyan in his 2003 book should be retained.

As a general point: Armenian revenue stamps of this 1918 - 23 period are actually more common on documents than as loose stamps. Mint stamps are rare. This is because most examples remained locked in Armenian archives until around the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union. At that time, quite large quantities of documents became available in Europe and America.

Some of those documents were subsequently "enhanced" by the addition of fiscal stamps, sometimes genuine stamps, sometimes fakes. For example, I have seen a fake fiscal overprint on a 10 rouble Chassepot REPRINT attached to an authentic document. Such a pity: a nice document and a crude fake!

Wednesday 11 August 2010

Armenia again - the ARTAR catalog

I just acquired my first copy of the ARTAR Stamps of Armenia catalog; $100 from Loral Stamps. It's the work of a lifelong, dedicated collector

One of the things I learnt early on in my career as a dealer is that most collectors do not look at their stamps. That is why most collections - in the areas in which I specialise in - are full of fakes. As someone once said, when you buy one of these collections in auction, you know that somewhere in it there will be a genuine stamp.

You know that there is going to be a problem with the ARTAR catalog when you look at the cover. Ten stamps from the 1919- 23 period of classic Armenian philately are illustrated, in colour. If I was looking at these in an auction catalog, I would count at least one as a fake.

Inside the catalog, there are beautiful illustrations of fascinating material, well presented. But the high quality of the production also allows you to see much that is doubtful or bad. Two examples:

The most common Armenian cancellation of the 1919 - 23 period is ERIVAN "b". It came into use some years before and it remained in use until 1924 - 25. Not surprisingly it has been forged: Tchilingirian and Ashford illustrate four different forgeries, Ceresa lists six. Since they wrote their books, new forgeries have been made.

The ARTAR catalog contains at least 25 colour illustrations which include strikes of ERIVAN "b", the first ones on page 9 and the last on page 183. I count 11 illustrations which show genuine examples of this cancellation; 7 which show forged cancellations; and 7 which I would not want to determine on the basis of a visual inspection of the catalog page - some are cancellations on dark stamps and so on. Some of the faked cancels I have seen before, outside the pages of this catalog.

If you want to see how I am doing it, compare the cancellation shown on page 12 with that shown as a receiver cancellation on page 49. Pay espcial attention to how the serial "b" is formed (I am sorry; I do not have Cyrillic on Blogger). The item on page 12 is the one with a forged cancellation. The item on page 49 shows an example of the genuine cancellation.

In my view, the author of a specialist catalog - someone with over 40 years' collecting experience - ought to have weeded out most of these fake cancels - they are not so hard to detect.

It is even easier to detect the faked ALEXANDROPOL "zhe" cancellation which seems to be of just one recent type and which I have seen before outside the pages of this catalog. I count at least 7 illustrations showing ALEXANDROPOL "zhe", of which 2 are genuine, 4 are fakes, and 1 not possible to determine.

Go to page 17 to see a very clear example of the fake, and page 166 to see a clear example of the genuine item on a lovely piece. Look at the serial "zhe" ; on the fake, this is a very poor copy indeed and its thin and elongated form has nothing to do with ageing or inking. The shape is completely wrong.

I use the word "fake" partly because I have been able in the past to carefully examine examples of actual faked cancellations rather than just illustrations and have been able to discuss with other collectors and dealers the provenance of such material. I have written about this in such articles as "Is this cover genuine in all respects?" (British Journal of Russian Philately, number 87, December 2001, pages 38 - 42; "The Sad Fate of Armenia's Archives", Rossica, No 137, Fall 2001, pages 8 - 13 where due to an editorial mix-up Figure 5 is labelled "genuine" when it should be labelled "Fake" ...). If I was working from the ARTAR illustrations alone, I should probably use the word "doubtful" pending the actual examination of the material, though in most cases the illustrations are clear enough for a verdict to be given

From this brief survey, I exclude the item on page 153 which requires separate discussion. But if you want to use your eyes, try looking at the enlargement of the 50r stamp and find the Karaklis cancellation under the Alexandropol cancellation of 9 5 23. Then compare the two strikes of the 9 5 23 cancellation with the apparently identical 8 5 23 cancellation. There is a rather important difference.I'll give you a clue: you'll be star-struck.....

To be continued ....

Monday 9 August 2010

Good News for Armenia Collectors!

There is a new website
This is the work of a serious collector who has read the serious books and is now providing well-grounded guidance on Forgery detection and other aspects of classical Armenian philately.
Bookmark this site!

Saturday 7 August 2010

Dealers and Experts

A client, new to the hobby, once queried my identification of some material I had sent him. I laughed, since the material was in one of the two or three areas where I count myself a specialist - and pretty straightforward material, too. I have no idea what books or comparison material he had in his hand when looking at my approvals.

But how are people supposed to know that I have specialist knowledge for two or three areas - Transcaucasia and Ukraine being the ones I would be confident to claim.

I belong to specialist societies; I occasionally contribute articles to their journals; I am on a List at the Royal Philatelic Society in London which means that I occasionally get asked to give my Opinion on an item submitted to it for just such an Opinion. I co-operate and discuss with knowledgeable clients: I ask their opinion and they ask mine. I have clients who will not buy from another source without running the item they want past me. In all of this, money doesn't change hands. It is all done in a spirit of philatelic co-operation.

Perhaps just as important, I hold stocks for Transcaucasia and Ukraine which are almost certainly the largest dealer stocks in Europe and which have been "sourced" (as your restaurant would say) from major collections, including the collections of those who have written the Handbooks we have to rely on ( Tchilingirian, Voikhansky, Seichter to name just three). It's a Gourmet stock and a lot of it isn't cheap. If I routinely got my identifications wrong, I would have no client base.

Dealers are self-appointed. So are most of the experts selling Certificates, some of them worthless.

Some years ago I bought in an Italian auction an Imperial Russian 3r50 without thunderbolts backed with one of those fancy Italian certificates. When I looked at it, the cancellation reminded me of something ....ah, yes, it was one of the standard Fournier forgery cancellations applied to a Fournier forgery stamp. I didn't ask for my money back; I just learnt a lesson about Italian certificates.

In contrast, there are the Certificates provided by members of the German BPP [Bund Philatelistischen Prüfer], who are recognised by that organisation precisely for their expertise and who issue their Certificates in a carefully prescribed and standardised manner. Hoorah! In general, BPP signatures can be relied on. The worst one can say is that some BPP experts do not actually have collections extensive enough to fully discharge their role.